From IBWikiPersian nobleman Manes -- or Mani, as he was known in the West -- (AD216-276) and also known as Manichaeism, Western Christians long labelled this religion as a Christian heresy. In reality, it is simply a native Persian religion that draws upon Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and indeed Christianity and Judaism for its mythology. Devotees believe that Manes received a revelation from God at the age of 24 to reform the incomplete religions of Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Christianity. After this revelation, he left his noble life behind and began to wander as a mendicant preacher (much as his spiritual ancestors, Zarathustra, Siddharta and Jesus had done before him). It was not long before he had gathered a sizable following, who called him "Messenger of Truth" and the "Sage of Persia"; though the Zoroastrian hierarchy was not pleased with his preaching and executed Manes for his "heretical" teaching.
Manesianity is a true dualist religion, like Zoroastrianism. It teaches that God created the world but that an evil power entered it and contaminated it. Humans, created in God's image, are essentially good beings, and spiritual in nature; however, the bodily form is contaminated by the Darkness of the evil power. After Mani's death, the movement gained in following and became established everywhere he had taught, from Persia to India to the coasts of Ethiopia. Disciples travelled widely and took his religion up into Asia and as far west as Iberia and Mauretania.
Devotees are of two classes, the Elect (who are the priests and who are called to follow the very strict code of conduct known as the Triple Seal) and the Hearers (who are the laity and follow a code of conduct less strict than that of the priests). The Triple Seal enjoins the priest to speak only the truth and good words and eat no meat or impure foods; do with his hands no work of evil (war, violence); and refrain from sexual acts, remaining celibate and chaste.
Manesian worship involves daily prayers, periods of fasting and forgathering for sacramental meals. Their sacraments are three: baptism, eucharist and remission of sins before the time of death. Hearers support the Elect by providing homes and food for them. Manesianity made great inroads into the West, especially central Europe and North Africa, but it was vigorously resisted by the Christian Church and the Imperial government, most likely due to its Persian origins. By the 6th century, Manesianity was all but eliminated from the Roman world, though communities seem to have survived and passed on the doctrines to later "heretics" like the Cathars and the Paulicians.